116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Gov. Kim Reynolds last month sent Iowa state troopers to the southern border to assist Texas police amid a reported surge in illegal crossings. After they returned, they painted a grim picture of life near the border.
At a news conference last week, they described the migrants they encountered. Some of them were young families traversing a dangerous portion of the Rio Grande alone, while others were brought by smugglers who reportedly abused them and housed them in dilapidated homes.
The migrants were hungry, dehydrated, at risk of heat exhaustion and in need of medical care, not to mention the threat of rattlesnakes and poisonous spiders on the dangerous desert journey. One girl was sure to die if she’d been found an hour later; some reported they saw dead bodies in the river.
The smugglers are also bringing drugs and weapons, police said. Crime is on the rise in the U.S. towns near the border and citizens there are worried every night that someone will break into their homes.
They are heartbreaking stories. It’s the kind of stuff that makes you think something ought to be done about it. Unfortunately, what we’re doing about it won’t do anything to solve those very real problems.
Calling increased border enforcement a Band-Aid on a bullet wound would be too charitable an analogy.
Reynolds deployed state police in response to a request from her peers in Texas and Arizona. They blame President Joe Biden for failing to address the situation.
“We’ve made it very clear we think this is a federal responsibility. That is their role to secure the southern border but because they’re not, states are stepping up and doing that,” Reynolds said at the news conference.
Reynolds is correct that this is Biden’s fault. Not just him, of course, but also his presidential predecessors and members of Congress of the last few decades. The federal government created the crisis that governors are haphazardly responding to.
But Reynolds and her fellow red-state governors aren’t advocating for the one thing that would help — drastically increasing legal immigration.
Calling increased border enforcement a Band-Aid on a bullet wound would be too charitable an analogy. It's more like a lobotomy — an outdated practice that was once thought to have benefits but we now should recognize causes more harm than good.
Border security is a problem largely because the federal government tightly controls the flow of people and products across the border.
It’s basic economics — there is great demand for the product (being in the United States) but the government is artificially restricting the supply (legal entry). Inevitably, that gives rise to an underground market for crossing the border. If the United States vastly expands avenues for legal entry, people will use them.
In other words, if it’s illegal immigration you want to stop, simply make immigration legal.
The right-wing talking point that Biden has opened the borders or is inviting foreigners to come to the country could hardly be further from reality. Even where Biden has unilateral control to lift restrictions, he has been slow to do so. His immigration regime is more like Donald Trump’s than it is different.
Officials cite drugs, weapons and human trafficking as reasons for ramping up enforcement. That is a whack-a-mole game and we’re losing. If we didn’t have state and federal law enforcement running around the desert chasing peaceful migrants, they would have more resources to go after actual human traffickers and violent criminals.
On the recent deployment, Iowa officers were involved with confiscating far more marijuana than potentially dangerous drugs — more than 900 pounds of pot compared to 37 pounds of cocaine and meth.
Iowa State Patrol in Texas reportedly assisted in one sex trafficking situation and 12 reported human smuggling situations. It’s an important distinction — traffickers are engaged in forced labor or sexual exploitation, while smugglers are providing a service to people who want to come here, illegal as it may be.
Undocumented people encountered by police are turned over to federal officials. From there, they are either allowed to stay in the country and go through legal proceedings or they are turned back and many will try again to enter. In either case, it’s not clear what good purpose the apprehensions serve.
The status quo is endangering migrants’ lives, creating an environment where legitimate crime can thrive, putting police in harm’s way, squandering government resources and depriving regions such as Iowa of the population growth we desperately need.
And for what? Most of the people trying to enter the United States without authorization are not criminals. They are normal people looking for a better life — and they’re subject to inhumane conditions because we won’t just let them come in the front door.
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